When I was 19, I read Ben Franklin’s autobiography. The book had quite an effect on me. In the book, he discusses a daily journal that he kept. He effectively tracked a list of virtues everyday that he was attempting to work on. The attached image is what his list of virtues looked like in his journal.
On the top row he listed the days of the week. Sunday through Saturday. The column on the right he listed the abbreviation of the virtue that he wanted to work on. At the end of the day, he would mark the one that he felt he actually exhibited that day. At first he only had 12. Then one fateful day, he commented:
“My list of virtues contained at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride show’d itself frequently in conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing, and rather insolent, of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavoring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list.”
You will note that in his journal entry there is a 13th virtue listed with an “H.” That is the mark for humility. You will also note that Mr. Franklin, never checked the H box in any of his entries! So the question I would like to pose today is this. Do you have humility on your list?
Humility is difficult to achieve, because by the very nature of the subject it does not draw a lot of attention to itself. It is hard to be humble by trying to be humble! I have to be honest, I like Mr. Franklin, struggle with this concept myself. Demonstrating humility is almost the last thing on my mind in any social interaction. Having said that, it is with great trepidation that I have come to the realization the humility is indeed one of the most powerful human virtues, almost completely unobtainable, but when a person has it – you know it.
I think you know what I am talking about. A person with true, unabashed humility is a force to be reckoned with. Not in a fist fight sort of sense, but in a you have already lost the battle before you even show up sense. The respect, the trust, the appreciation, the admiration that a person that possesses a humble and contrite persona is miraculous to watch. They just seem to treat everyone well, people gravitate towards them, want to help them, they get what they need with little effort. They are not struggling with the things that I seem to struggle with. It seems as if they have transcended those things and gone on to the real concerns and worries of life that I can only pretend to care about.
So this seems to an ideal to strive for, but how? Well, I am assuming that many people will have lots of ideas. I have heard that keeping a gratitude journal helps, for example. Self disclosure helps I think. The more willing you are to talk about the challenges you face, the more others will be willing to share with you and you will develop more compassion, empathy and with any luck humility. I think focusing on serving others, helping others where you can is a great way to earn this characteristic. When you are in the service of others, you tend to stop being so proud about yourself. I noticed that when I had really small children, I was really humble because I was being humbled on a constant basis!! Nothing like constantly failing to remind you of why you should have some humility now and then!
However, as usual, I meander through my blog to eventually get to my main point. Here it is. If you really want to develop humility in in your life, then you absolutely must put your neck out, step up, put your self in a position where failure is highly likely. You become humble when you are humbled by your circumstances. If you surround yourself with people that tell you how great you are all the time, then you are going to find pride as your companion. If you put yourself in a tough situation, competitive even, difficult, hard, then you will find humility. You will have no problem finding it, you will face it everyday. This is a good thing.
If there is one thing that I have learned, you can never fake having humility. You also cannot force yourself to be humble. It is not something that you can practice. It is something you earn, and that I am afraid, comes by being in situations that are completely humbling. Circumstances that are quite literally crushing you. That is what humility is all about and that is why when you meet someone that has achieved this state, you are in complete awe. I think Ghandi. That dude was one of the most humble persons that ever roamed the planet, yet I bet you when he entered a room it was felt, like a thunderclap. We could all probably list many people that have been like that in the history of the world. They are special indeed. You will not find one of them that did not go through the refiners fire to get where they were.
Oh and btw, do not ever make the mistake of praying for humility – unless you are ready for the storm.